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SpaceX Crew Dragon splashes into Atlantic, completing test flight's return leg

09 March 2019

By Thursday the space station crew bid farewell to Ripley and closed the hatch ahead of Dragon's Friday morning departure.

The capsule will de-orbit and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean at 8:45 a.m. Eastern March 8, about six hours before its splashdown in the Atlantic.

The SpaceX mission represents the first private venture to the ISS, as well as the first time a space vessel capable of carrying people was launched by the USA in eight years. With that - the first water landing in the Atlantic since Apollo 9 in 1969 - SpaceX moved one step closer to sending humans into orbit.

Not since the end of the Space Shuttle programme has the U.S. been able to send its own astronauts into orbit. NASA is counting on SpaceX and Boeing to start launching astronauts this year.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon is an upgraded version of the robotic cargo-carrying Dragon that has been ferrying payloads to and from the space station since 2012, a year after NASA retired its space shuttle fleet. The landing technique is unique to SpaceX, as both Russia's veteran Soyuz capsule and Boeing's forthcoming Starliner are created to land on terra firma rather than at sea. Crew Dragon remained attached to the space station from Sunday, allowing SpaceX engineers more time to test a variety of systems and components.

"There's a lot that we have to do before we can certify both these vehicles to fly humans to space, but I think it's a definite possibility, and I'm confident we'll get one of them up there with crew before the end of the year", Bob Cabana, director of NASA Kennedy Space Center said at the pre-launch news briefing. Historic aerospace company Boeing are also readying to fly to the ISS with their own capsule, dubbed "Starliner", in the coming months.

NASA and SpaceX's mission return completes a five-day excursion that took off from Earth, docked with the International Space Station, and returned to Earth safely.

At 13:33 UTC the Crew Dragon reached Entry Interface, the point when the spacecraft re-enters the atmosphere.

The inaugural commercial crew test flight, Demo-1 mission, is uncrewed.

Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine hailed the splashdown, saying it "marked another milestone in a new era of human spaceflight". Shuttles took American astronauts to space from 1981 to 2011, but their cost proved prohibitive, while two of the original four craft had catastrophic accidents, killing 14 crew members.

An unmanned capsule from Elon Musk's SpaceX splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean on Friday morning after a short-term stay on the International Space Station, capping the first orbital test mission in NASA's long-delayed quest to resume human space flight from USA soil later this year. NASA awarded the first contracts in 2014 to SpaceX and Boeing, now totaling about $8 billion.

Astronauts have not launched from Florida for eight years, and NASA is eager to end the drought and reduce its costly dependence on Russian Federation for space station trips.

SpaceX Crew Dragon splashes into Atlantic, completing test flight's return leg